New York City will require employees at yeshivas, Catholic schools and other private schools to be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to a new directive announced Thursday.
The directive is expected to affect roughly 930 schools and 56,000 employees, city officials said, according to a report in The New York Times. They will have to show proof they received the first dose of a vaccine by December 20.
“We’re doing everything in our power to protect our students and school staff, and a mandate for nonpublic school employees will help keep our school communities and youngest New Yorkers safe,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement.
Teachers and other employees at public schools were already required to get vaccinated, and more than 95 percent of the Department of Education’s employees have done so, according to The New York Times. Students are not required to be vaccinated, and the mayor has resisted setting a mandate for students, as some other American cities have.
Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, chairman of the Committee of NYC Religious and Independent School Officials, swiftly wrote a letter to de Blasio opposing the vaccine mandate for private schools.
“While we support and generally encourage COVID vaccination in our schools, and while in fact the large majority of our schools' employees are so vaccinated, most of our schools do not insist upon such vaccination as a condition of employment,” wrote Rabbi Zwiebel.
“Many of our schools view COVID vaccination as a matter most appropriately left to individual choice, not governmental fiat. This is an area where government should be using its bully pulpit to persuade, not its regulatory arm to coerce,” he added.
“The practical impact of the city imposing an immunization mandate could be devastating to our schools and the children they serve. The reality is that the small percentage of school employees who have chosen not to vaccinate have made a personal choice based on their individual circumstances and personal values,” the letter stated.
“Surely at least some of them will continue to resist vaccination even if the city imposes a vaccination mandate – whereupon, pursuant to the terms of the mandate, they will be terminated from their jobs. As a result, the school will have to hire new qualified teachers and other staff to fill the newly created vacancies,” the letter continued.
“In an era when finding high quality teachers and staff is so difficult even at the beginning of the school year finding high quality replacement staff in the middle of the school year may be impossible. Some schools may even be forced to close because of the severe shortage of teachers,” wrote Rabbi Zwiebel
De Blasio, who is due to leave office in less than a month and be replaced by Eric Adams, has faced previously criticism for his handling of the virus response among the city's Jewish residents.
In April of 2020, de Blasio caused an uproar when he threatened "the Jewish community" with summons and arrest after a large crowd of Hasidic Jews gathered for a rabbi's funeral in Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood.
The Mayor later apologized to the Jewish community and said, "I regret if the way I said it in any way gave people the feeling that they were being treated the wrong way.”
"It was said with love, but it was tough love," de Blasio added. He also said, "Members of the Jewish community were putting each other in danger and putting our police officers in danger."
In a subsequent conference call with Orthodox Jewish media outlets, the Mayor said he is not planning to delete the initial tweet which caused the uproar, arguing that doing so would turn the saga into “a new story”.
He added, however, that he is open to discussing what to do and expressed his regrets on the wording of the tweet.